Image Credit: Hulu
The title of this piece comes from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. In the novel (no spoilers), Offred finds the latin words ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’ carved into the side of the closet. It translates to ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’. In the context of the novel (and in the highly popular TV Show), the phrase is to inspire the oppressed women to continue living despite their dark and painful reality. This context of the phrase isn’t why I use it here.
I use it in reference to times where we all feel pressure. We’re surrounded by it in today’s world - pressure to look like a supermodel on Instagram, pressure that we’re not funny enough on TikTok, and as we grow older, pressure that we aren’t achieving enough, especially on platforms such as Linkedin. On these platforms, and in everyday life, we are constantly comparing ourselves to others in so many different ways. I wish I could magically click my fingers and stop myself from doing it, but the reality is that I am never going to escape this feeling that others are achieving so much more than me.
This has definitely been heightened by the pandemic. The whole discourse around ‘use the time we have to do something productive’ is really damaging, especially for students and others who have not been furloughed. The reality is - we don’t have time. I for one am doing the same amount of work that I would have been doing pre-Covid, and as such, I don’t have the time to learn a new skill or write a best-selling novel. But the pressure that we have to use our spare time to be productive is unhelpful. Therefore, we need to stop putting pressure on ourselves and each other in these ways, and we shouldn’t put expectations on how we are meant to use our spare moments.
If you have a spare hour and want to watch some Netflix in bed, do it. If you feel like staying in bed for an extra hour, do it. If you want a chill evening with a pizza and a glass of wine, do it. We have to take time to reflect that we are enough, especially now, and that we can’t let other people pressure us into fulfilling an expectation. Equally, if you are finding yourself being productive, that is amazing and I don’t seek to diminish that in any way. I would, however, urge you not to boast about it.
So, let’s come back to Atwood. If you’re feeling low because someone on Twitter posted that they got a first in an essay and you didn’t, just think: you are in a pandemic, living in a period of unprecedented social and economic depravity, where sitting on a bench is not allowed – you are doing your best. ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’, and importantly, don’t grind yourself down.
I find that setting a cut-off time for work helps me. After a specified time you pack your work away and focus on some downtime. A time where you’re not thinking about how good everyone else is doing in comparison to you, but instead where you’re thinking of how proud you are to be getting through one of the toughest times of recent history. Everyone’s situation is different, and comparing yourself to others is never going to be helpful. You just have to remind yourself:
You are enough.